Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt by the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Vikings win 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Training Camp: Marcus Sherels in Danger?

Marcus Sherels was unable to suit up for Friday’s preseason opener against the Raiders, leading some to worry that Sherels’ job as the Vikings’ punt returner was in jeopardy. Those concerns only deepened when Adam Thielen, already a solid candidate to make the team as a second-year UDFA, performed well filling in for Sherels.

Special teams coach Mike Priefer seemed to put all those Sherels concerns to bed on Sunday, assuring the media and fans that Sherels remains the Vikings’ #1 punt returner at this time (via ESPN.com). But did he really put them to bed or only cause them to intensify?

“Well, a lot of it is Marcus’s health. Obviously he couldn’t go the other night, and hopefully he’ll be fine,” Priefer said. “Marcus has earned the job, and obviously he’ll feel a little bit of a pressure from Adam [Thielen] or any other young returner, but Marcus is a guy that we’ve relied on heavily the last three years and we’ll see him have continued success, I hope.

“So right now if you’re asking me who’s going to be the returner Week 1, I would expect it to be Marcus, depending on his health and how he performs the rest of the preseason.”

The exact wording of Priefer’s remark there is interesting. “I would expect it to be Marcus, depending on his health and how he performs the rest of the preseason.” Sounds to me like Priefer is leaving open the possibility that Sherels could still lose his job. At the very least, Sherels knows he can’t rest on what he’s already accomplished.

Realistically, a lot of this will come down not to Sherels’ performance but how Mike Zimmer wants to constitute his roster. How many cornerbacks will Zimmer want to keep? If Zimmer chooses to go with five corners, things could get a little treacherous for Sherels. Even at six, Sherels could be out.

It’s still early in preseason, but we’ve seen solid work from several Viking corners including Derek Cox, Jabari Price and Shaun Prater. All three of those players arguably have more value than Sherels as cornerbacks. And don’t forget about Josh Robinson, who was unable to play Friday night but has been getting plenty of first team reps.

If the Vikes elect to keep three of those four men plus starters Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn, that would be five corners, none named Sherels. Even if the Vikings keep six, Sherels could find himself the odd man out.

It seems like we go through this every preseason with Sherels, speculating that his time in Minnesota could be over, only to watch him secure a job mostly on the basis of his punt return prowess. So far, Mike Priefer is talking as though Sherels is pretty safe, but Priefer stopped short of guaranteeing that Sherels will still have a spot come September. And the fact is that, if they like what Thielen can do on returns, that makes it easier to move on from Sherels.

As I said before, it’s not entirely in Priefer’s hands anyway. If Zimmer wants to keep five or six corners and Sherels isn’t among them, and they feel like Thielen can do the job as it seems he can, then the Vikings will have a new punt returner come Week 1. And Sherels will be looking for work elsewhere.

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